jerry pagel
Retired Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel

Today, at my newspaper office in Appleton, Wis., I came across an old email. Its sender was retired Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel. He sought me out on the heels of the Milwaukee federal judge’s ruling overturning the 2007 murder conviction of Brendan Dassey and coinciding with my three-day statewide investigative series over the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department’s suspected cover-up of the 1999 hit-and-run fatality of Ricky Hochstetler, 17. My series chronicled the long-standing suspicions surrounding current Manitowoc County Sheriff Rob Hermann and his younger brother, Todd, who was third in command until leaving the police profession this January, soon after turning age 50.

Here is the full text of Mr. Pagel’s email from last Fall: “Just a question – why are you not doing any in-depth stories about the history and background concerning the Avery’s? You (sic) articles continually try to make the police look bad and since you delve into the history of Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department and the rumors, why not delve into some of the “rumors” about the past of the Avery family members and the salvage yard? Seems a bit biased. Certainly we have a vested interest in the outcome of that particular trial, but we continually notice only “ cop” stories in your columns.” Jerry & Mary Pagel

Today, I went ahead and emailed Pagel back. My primary reason is to interview him regarding overlooked murder suspect Ryan Hillegas.

My email response to Pagel: “Given the most recent court filings and developments regarding the Teresa Halbach murder case, I wanted to ask you some questions about Mr. Ryan Hillegas and your interactions with him. I am reachable at 920-993-7115. If you prefer to meet up in person, we can do that as well.”

Presuming Pagel is open to meeting with me in person for an interview, what questions would you want to ask the retired sheriff? One of the questions I want to ask surrounds the aftermath of “Making a Murderer.” I am curious what members of Calumet and Manitowoc County law enforcement, past and present, Pagel has interacted with and what were these discussions? I also intend to ask some questions related to the Nov. 4, flyover he spearheaded with sheriff’s investigator Wendy Baldwin.

Someone pointed out to me today that Pagel is not the first key law enforcement on the Halbach murder case to send me an email at the newspaper lambasting my coverage. The first was Manitowoc County Lt. of Detectives Andy Colborn. That story is here:

From Colborn’s email last year: “You know all these allegations against Mr. Lenk, myself and our agency are totally false, yet you continue to support these lies and exacerbate the problems they cause … Your lack of responsibility and your bias is appalling. I know the truth doesn’t sell newspapers as much as lies and controversy, but for once try thinking about the consequences of the slander and defamation that you are authoring and participating in. A word of caution, be careful what you wish for. If Steven Avery is ever freed, he may just become your neighbor, and he may want to bring his nephew with him.”

Given that Colborn has ducked the news media ever since “Making a Murderer,” I am not 100 percent confident Pagel will call me up for an interview. I hope he does. Back in the day, Pagel was a news media savvy sheriff, but at this critical juncture, with Zellner’s Steven Avery court case heating up, Pagel may decide to lay low and become (or remain) a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker.